Potentially Problematic Opinions Month: I love Degrassi, and I’m glad that [SPOILER!] is dead.
I have written this post for Alex Neill’s Potentially Problematic Opinions Month, which you can read more about on her blog, Adventures in TV-Land. Throughout the month of August, I’ve attempted to post once a week about something vaguely “problematic” or “controversial” [but not done a very good job at adhering to the weekly deadline – it’s a busy time for me!]. Anyway, get in touch with Alex if you’d like to play along.
This [incredibly late] PPOM post features spoilers for the two most recent episodes of Degrassi [formerly Degrassi: The Next Generation]. While these are pretty big spoilers, I highly doubt that any of you actually care enough about Degrassi to be worried about them. Still, I’ll throw the second half of this behind a cut1 just in case.
Yes, you read correctly: I love Degrassi.
I’ve been watching Degrassi: The Next Generation since the show first aired on the ABC. Back then, I was just starting high school and therefore the perfect age group and target audience for the series. However, unlike most people who started watching back in 2001, I haven’t stopped.
The original “next generation” of Degrassi-ans graduated from high school at the same time that I did, however the show has a clever system of intermittently introducing waves of new characters so that there’s always a familiar face. Despite the only original cast member being Snake [yes, that Snake – he’s principal of DCS now!], there’s enough of an overlap that the series never feels like it’s starting again with a completely new cast.
It’s hard to explain why I still watch Degrassi. Is it because I have the emotional maturity of a highschooler? Or because every time they introduce a new wave of characters, I find myself growing attached all over again? Probably more the latter than the former [although some of my friends may beg to differ]. I think the main reason, however, is that I love children’s television. For me, this is more than just a nostalgia thing; Degrassi is the exact kind of show that I would love to write for one day.
That said, Degrassi is far from the ideal example of a perfect children’s series [let’s save the superlatives for Press Gang]. The show can be fun. It can be over the top. And it can be incredibly stupid. This is summed up quite well in the following AV Club quote:
See, to love Degrassi means to give in to Degrassi. You have to give in and accept the sheer ridiculousness of the show, you have to expect that storylines will go one step in the wrong direction, and you have to quietly accept that everything stupid can and will happen. But this absurdity is the reason why the show is so addicting to watch.
– Pilot Viruet, The AV Club
That article goes on to say “if you want to sound crazy, try explaining characters’ backstories to someone unfamiliar with the show”. Because Degrassi uses the “after school special” model of storytelling, each character experiences a ridiculously exaggerated amount of “issues” – anything from anorexia, to finding out your dad is gay, or developing a “drug habit” after taking cocaine twice. This may all sound crazy, but it allows the series to work with some rather diverse characters.
SPOILER ALERT! Read ahead at your own risk…
The cast of Degrassi‘s 13th [and current] season. Adam is second from the right. [Image via Degrassi Wiki].
So, let’s talk about why Adam needed to die.
Let me preface this bit by saying that I think Adam is a great character. While his storylines were always rushed – like everything in the Degrassi universe – he was able to show a struggle unique to the series. In no other show have I seen a transgender character written in such a respectful way. Please do not take anything that I have written here to mean that I am transphobic. I don’t mean to be offensive, and if you find my comments ignorant in any way, please let me know, and I will endeavour to correct and/or clarify my statements.
For anybody who hasn’t been keeping up with Degrassi: Adam Torres is a female-to-male transgender student who was introduced into the Degrassi universe a couple of seasons ago. The younger brother of Drew [who was, at first, a confident and popular footballer], Adam had some difficulty adjusting when several students found out that he had been born female. Some of his storylines on the show were specifically about being transgender – in one episode, his mother asked him to dress as a girl to please his grandmother; in another, a male student felt uncomfortable with Adam using the men’s bathroom. However, Adam was also involved with several other non-trans story arcs.
Adam’s journey was always going to be a tricky one for the Degrassi writers, as there was only so far that the character could go. Teenage transgender characters are very rare in network television, and by all reports, Degrassi handled the challenge brilliantly. However, once Adam reached a specific point in his journey, the producers of the series were faced with a rather big dilemma. Having cast a female actor in the role [Jordan Todosey – who performed very well], they could not realistically show the character taking hormones and furthering his physical transition. Not to mention that Adam always had such beautifully sculptured eyebrows – something that seemed quite out of character.
In order to respectfully deal with this change in Adam’s story, Degrassi had three options:
1. Replace Jordan with a male or transgender actor.
2. Have Adam move away or leave for some reason.
3. Kill him.
Now, while Degrassi can be more than a little soap operatic at times, they don’t just replace actors. Doing so wouldn’t have felt right, and would have made it difficult for viewers to maintain their sentiments towards the character.
Moving Adam away would have outraged all of the angry internet dwellers just as much as killing him did! If the show had Adam leave, they would realistically have to send Drew with him. And with Drew, they’d have to also lose his fiancée, Bianca. Then surely Eli and Clare [Adam’s best friends] would want to keep in touch. Not to mention Adam’s girlfriend, Becky. Degrassi has done some pretty dodgy departures in the past [see: Shenae Grimes’ Darcy suddenly heading to Kenya, and never coming back, even when her parents got divorced or when her little sister got cancer], but I’d like to think that it’s something they try to avoid unless absolutely necessary.
Killing Adam in the way that they did – a car accident [texting while driving is dangerous, kids] – is the most respectful way that they could have written out the character. They didn’t make his death about being transgender. They made it about being a teenager. Teenagers do some dangerous things when they’re emotional.
The most recent episode of Degrassi, ” Young Forever”, is a tribute to Adam. Not once do they mention him bing transgender. Instead, they focus on what a part of the community he was, and all of the people whose lives he touched. It is a very fitting farewell to a character who’d been given as much of a journey as the show could offer. So stop complaining that they killed the trans kid, and instead remember the other reasons why Adam was awesome, just like everybody at his funeral did.
1 I’m pretty sure that I’m exposing my LiveJournal roots here by using outdated terminology. But, hey – I used to be a member of quite a few D:tNG communities back in my LJ days, so it’s kind of fitting.